David Brooks wonders aloud whether or not President Obama has the guts to stick with the war in Afghanistan.
I’ve called around to several of the smartest military experts I know to get their views on these controversies. I called retired officers, analysts who have written books about counterinsurgency warfare, people who have spent years in Afghanistan. I tried to get them to talk about the strategic choices facing the president. To my surprise, I found them largely uninterested.
Most of them have no doubt that the president is conducting an intelligent policy review. They have no doubt that he will come up with some plausible troop level.
They are not worried about his policy choices. Their concerns are more fundamental. They are worried about his determination.
These people, who follow the war for a living, who spend their days in military circles both here and in Afghanistan, have no idea if President Obama is committed to this effort. They have no idea if he is willing to stick by his decisions, explain the war to the American people and persevere through good times and bad.
Their first concerns are about Obama the man. They know he is intellectually sophisticated. They know he is capable of processing complicated arguments and weighing nuanced evidence.
So I guess the president’s most important meeting is not the one with the Joint Chiefs and the cabinet secretaries. It’s the one with the mirror, in which he looks for some firm conviction about whether Afghanistan is worthy of his full and unshakable commitment. If the president cannot find that core conviction, we should get out now. It would be shameful to deploy more troops only to withdraw them later. If he does find that conviction, then he should let us know, and fill the vacuum that is eroding the chances of success.
When a pundit comes up with a question like that, it makes you wonder what it was in the president’s past behavior that would suggest that he would lack the courage or the tenacity to make a decision and stick with it, all the while considering the changing circumstances once he’s made the decision? The president has his flaws and his enigmas, but a lack of tenacity isn’t one of them. If it was, he’d still be a community organizer — if that — in Chicago. Instead, the president is dealing with a very difficult problem in the way that all dilemmas should be: getting as much information as possible, looking at all the possible ramifications, including, I hope, the ones you never think of, and coming to a conclusion that may have to be modified or even abandoned as the situation warrants. That’s not dithering, that’s judgment, and the people who are clamoring for an instant response are the ones who left this flaming bag of trouble on his desk in the first place and are not the ones who will be standing on the tarmac at Dover.